What you need to know about Admission Deadlines

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Yes. I understand it’s summer and just hearing the word “deadline” is annoying at best. Congrats on just opening this one up.

Yes. I have heard you are supposed to title articles “Top 5 Things…” or “Do’s and Don’ts about…” in order to get clicks, improve shares, and entice readers and drive analytics.

Yes. I realize an entire blog about “deadlines” likely falls into the same bucket for most teens as texts or reminders about cleaning bathrooms, writing physical thank you notes, and getting up early for no particular reason on a Saturday.

So, if you happen to be reading this by a pool or ocean or in some other lovely setting, feel free to stop now and simply bookmark this one, or put it into a subfolder titled “college admission,” “crap someone forwarded me,” or “stuff I’ll read later.”

But a few promises since you are still with me. First, I promise I’m not asking you to do anything specifically right now. Second…actually, there is no second. Let’s just boil this down to the basics.

Here is what you need to know about admission deadlines.

  1. Deadlines are about Institutional Priorities.  If the term Institutional Priorities sounds familiar, it is because we have covered these talking about mission statements and admission decisions. Colleges have goals for their size of class, shape of class, and profile of class (academically and financially).

The truth is application deadlines are driven by the same philosophy- how and when students apply is 100% about helping schools achieve their mission.

Example: The University of California System, which includes some of the nation’s best public universities, has an application window between November 1 and November 30. Is that time period the most student- friendly for kids from some parts of the country or world in which November is the most academically intense? Nope. But the deadline exists because it works for the California System schools. Period.

As my friend and colleague Pam Ambler from Pace Academy here in Atlanta says, “The way admission decisions feel (read: emotional and personal) is not how they are made (read: all about a college’s goals and priorities).” You can put deadlines in the same bucket.

2. Deadlines are about competition.

I’m guessing when you are considering colleges, your focus is on distinguishing one from another and determining if you are a good match or fit for that place- and it should be.

Colleges, however, are very concerned about one another. They compare size of class, academic and geographic profile of class, as well as admit rates, yield rates, and so on.

We are not going to go down a rankings rabbit hole today, but suffice it to say boards, presidents, and systems are extremely cognizant of what the others are doing in the higher education ecosystem, and the decisions of one often impact many. You’ve seen this play out in the test optional conversation very publicly in recent years.

The bottom line is colleges set their deadlines with a keen eye toward who they currently are, or aspire to compete against.  If you are a sports fan of any kind, none of these actions or thought processes surprise you.

Example: If a school provides students the opportunity to apply in the summer before senior year, or well before most schools set their deadlines in October and November, you can be assured they have traditionally been losing students to other colleges and their deadline/timeline to apply is now set in response to the desire to win more. How? Because if you apply early and that school begins doing interviews or ultimately gets an admission decision out well in advance of other colleges, they can court you earlier and longer than their competition.

There is nothing wrong or nefarious about this. And there are benefits to getting an admission decision back early and knowing you have options. But where does that deadline come from? A direct competition strategy to increase academic profile, likely financial profile (less needy students tend to apply earlier), and potentially also decrease admit rate while increasing yield—because if they get earlier commits, they can admit fewer students later in the cycle.

3. Deadlines are about Financial Aid

Most people don’t think about how admission deadlines directly relate to financial aid and the cost of enrolling a class. Instead, most articles center on Early Decision and whether it is abusive, ethical, or how to strategize around it. (But most articles don’t start by acknowledging their titles suck either now do they?) The timing of admission applications absolutely impacts the way schools dole out aid, as well as the amount they have at various times of year to enroll their class.

Example: If a school has an Early Decision deadline, as well as multiple additional deadlines (ED I and II, plus EA; or EDI and then months later another ED opportunity; or ED, EA, another oddly titled deadline, etc.), you can be sure they are both need and profile aware. In other words, they are attempting to receive early commits from students who have the financial ability to pay, even if they forego later applicants who have a higher academic profile.

1+2+3= Admission Deadlines, A Case Study

This is fresh on my mind right now because at Georgia Tech, we recently set our first-year admission deadlines for next year.

  1. Institutional Priorities: As you can see, our Early Action I deadline is established for Georgia students. Why? Because as a public school, Georgia students are a priority for Georgia Tech. Although only 20% of the students who apply to Tech are from our state, 60% of undergraduates hail from the Peach State.
  2. Competition: Our number one overlap for in-state students is the University of Georgia. As a result of increasing application volume, the size of our admission team, and the holistic review process we use, we were releasing admission decisions in mid- January. This not only put us behind UGA, but also several weeks after most of our Top 10 overlap schools as well. Adjusting our EA1 deadline allows us to release Georgia student decisions prior to the Winter Break.
  3. Financial Aid: Our Regular Decision deadline is in early January. Is this the most optimal time for students? No. For many reasons late January or even early February would be my preference. However, due to application volume, staff size, and a holistic review process, we set our deadline in order to be able financially package students in a timeline more closely aligned with other colleges.

What does this mean for you?

First, deadlines matter to colleges, so they need to matter to you. As we have just established, they are set for a reason– and that reason involves money and competition. Hopefully that gets your attention.

Second, they allow you to plan. Again, as promised, I’m not asking anything from you right now. But if you are going to need teacher recommendations submitted, or a transcript sent, or test scores delivered by a certain point in the cycle, you need to get the deadlines for admission and financial aid of the colleges you are applying to on a spreadsheet or some other workable document– because deadlines breed deadlines.

Third, the timing and names of schools’ deadlines, i.e., ED, Priority, Restrictive, etc., are reflective and indicative of their goals and priorities. You could do some deep digging into Common Data Sets or look over the history of particular schools and how the timing and naming of their deadlines have shifted, or you can just trust me. Take some time (not now, not now) to understand your options and think/ask/read about how those deadlines will ultimately impact admission review and decisions.

So, there you have it- a blog about deadlines. Never thought I’d write one and would be curious to hear what you think about this and other topics. We are beginning to plan out our blog and podcast schedule for the fall, so reach out @gtadmission or in the comments section of our podcast with suggestions and feedback.

Author: Rick Clark

Rick Clark is the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech. He has served on a number of national advisory and governing boards at the state, regional, and national level. Rick travels annually to U.S. embassies through the Department of State to discuss the admission process and landscape of higher education. He is the co-author of the book The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together, and a companion workbook published under the same title. A native of Atlanta, he earned a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a M.Ed. from Georgia State University. Prior to coming to Tech, Rick was on the admissions staff at Georgia State, The McCallie School and Wake Forest University. @clark2college